Implant selling racket bared at Mumbai's GT Hospital

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has unearthed a racket of unlicensed medical implants being sold out of the residential quarters of Mumbai's state-run GT Hospital by the brother of an orthopaedic surgeon. The drug regulator suspects the involvement of doctors in the scam.

Acting on a tip-off, on 2 February, FDA officials raided room No 306 on the third floor of one of the hospital buildings, which is commonly referred to as the 'high-rise'. They found Vineet Pimpale storing and selling orthopaedic implants without a licence under the name of Medical Surgical and Hospital Equipment that bore a Bhiwandi address. He was also illegally staying on the premises.

The FDA officials also recovered intramedullary nails and interlocking bolts worth Rs4 lakh from the room, which hospital authorities claimed was supposed to be a store house.

Pimpale has no official association with the JJ Group of hospitals, though his surgeon brother had previously worked there.

A doctor from a state-run hospital, on condition of anonymity, said that in the past they have come under political pressure to buy implants from Pimpale.

Authorities at GT Hospital claimed they were unaware of the racket till the FDA came to their doorstep. "The rooms in that building are allotted by the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors. As far as we knew, it was a storeroom," said Dr M Tayade, medical superintendent of GT Hospital.

The bills recovered from the room showed that the implants, including acetabular cups, shoulder prosthesis rods, bipolar hip cross and tibia nails, were mainly supplied to JJ, GT and St George hospitals, all state-run.

On interrogation, Pimpale led the FDA officials to a Nanded firm, Asclepious Enterprises, where orthopaedic implants worth Rs1.07 crore were recovered. This company, too, did not have a licence to sell or distribute implants, but was supplying to 22 stockists in the state.

"Surprisingly, the company has been appointed as authorised dealers for the state government by Sharma Surgical and Engineering Pvt Ltd, a Gujarat-based manufacturing firm. Our team will visit Gujarat," said FDA commissioner Harshadeep Kamble, adding that the seized implants have been sent for quality checks.

Head of orthopaedics at JJ Hospital Dr Eknath Pawar said they had banned Pimpale from selling implants to patients over a year ago. "We suspected his credentials, so did not allow him to operate at JJ. But we have little control over where patients buy implants from," he said.

Pawar added that agents like Pimpale somehow get an access to the OT list, where names of patients awaiting a knee or hip surgery or treatment for fractures is listed, and contact them.

Dean of JJ Group of hospitals Dr T P Lahane said they will investigate into the matter. "We will inquire how he got access to that room at G T Hospital."

Kamble said Pimpale has violated Section 18 (C) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which can attract a penalty of minimum Rs1 lakh and up to five years' jail.